Men Have Hearing Advantage

Men are more able to localize sound at cocktail parties

(RxWiki News) Women are better than men at a number of things such as noticing fine details and changes such as a new hair cut. But men have the upper hand when it comes to parking and navigating a new city. They are known to excel at these visuo-spatial abilities.

New research suggests that men also may have a noticeable advantage when it comes to hearing, especially when it comes to noisy environments.

"Both sexes are equally successful at identifying one sound at a time."

Ida Zündorf from the Center of Neurology at Tübingen University, professor Hans-Otto Karnath and Dr. Jörg Lewald used a sound-localizing task to investigate audio-spatial abilities of healthy men and women. The men and women listened to sounds and were asked to deter mine the location of the sound by either pointing toward the sound or giving an exact position such as 45 degrees right.

Both men and women were successful with the task when asked to identify the sounds one at a time. However participants were then presented with several sounds simultaneously and asked to focus on and localize only one. The researchers refer to this as the cocktail party phenomenon, defined as the human ability to pick out and focus on one sound while in a noisy environment.

Women had much more difficulty with the second task, and in some cases thought that the sounds were coming from the opposite end of the room.

Researchers said the results indicated that in addition to visuo-spatial tasks, men are also better at auditory-spatial tasks. Because the male advantage was only found in noisy environments, researchers suggested the difference is related to a “high attentional mechanism” in the brain specifically involved in extracting spatial information of one particular sound source in a noisy environment.

Investigators speculate men developed these spatial abilities as the result of natural and sexual selection throughout human evolution.

The findings are published in the June 2011 issue of Cortex.

Review Date: 
July 5, 2011